A Letter to High School Swimmers who “Aren’t Good Enough” to Swim in College

Courtesy of Dan Kelly, SwimSwam Intern. Follow: @DanKelso3 

Dear Fellow Doubters,

I remember the feeling. I know the struggle, the fear of failure, and the resulting apathy. I understand how tiresome it can be to continuously set alarms for 5:30 AM, and looking back, the fear of having to do it for another four years is still all too real to me. You see, as a high school swimmer, I fell into the trap. My team was tangled in a netting of complaints, negativity, and indifference. Deep down we all loved the sport, but when success is measured so harshly and accurately by a stopwatch, we were quick to mask our own discouragement with an apathetic attitude.

I vividly remember lounging in front of the TV senior year as my older sister (a softball player for Saint Louis University) interrogated me about my decision not to look for a college swim program. “Erin, I’m not good enough, and I don’t even like swimming.” She glared right through my protective cloak of carelessness and continued to pester me. I had to back up my claims to get her off my back, “Erin look at the NCAA 50-yard free times, almost all of the top 100 sprinters go 19 point. I have not even broken 22 seconds.” Before I even had the chance to list my other excuses, she had Boston College Swimming’s website open and in front of me. As she forced me to read about the team, she explained the camaraderie, enthusiasm, and competitive nature of college teams. She begged me to just try emailing coaches. “Swim for one year and quit if you don’t like it.”

Turns out, after just one week of swimming for Boston College, I climbed out of my bottomless pit of apathy, and boy did it show on that suddenly not-so-harsh stopwatch. You can imagine the amount of credit my sister cashed in when I qualified for Olympic Trials in the 50-meter freestyle this past summer.

So think of me as an older, wiser, unrelenting sibling of yours: I can see right through your transparent veil of indifference. If you didn’t care enough about swimming to try it in college, you would not have set that 5:30 AM alarm this morning… or last morning… or the hundreds of mornings before that. Something kept you going, and that same something is going to launch you toward success when you inevitably find a college program that you care about. So go out there, research college swim programs, and just try it “for one year.”


A high school swimmer who “wasn’t good enough” to swim in college

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up” – Thomas Edison

In This Story

Leave a Reply

Notify of
newest most voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
6 years ago

Thank you so much for this! It gives me hope!

Joey Garcia
6 years ago

man this explains my situation so much.. my high school team was only 7 kids and we where so competitive amongst each other but i was not always the best one i was good but not “good enough” and so i didn’t try out for a college team.. and now i’m in my second year of college and i miss it so much and regret not doing it.. but this summer i hope to join master’s and get back to try and get on the team i hope its not to late by then

Reply to  Joey Garcia
6 years ago

Joey, you’re going to love masters swimming. Swimming is such a great sport – a healthy distraction and a way to make life-long friends. Don’t give up.

Reply to  Joey Garcia
6 years ago

Joey: Follow your instincts; not swimming in college, or at least giving it a better try, is one of my biggest regrets. I quit after a week, because as a walk-on at a NCAA Div 1 school and only the 6th fastest swimmer in my events, I thought the commitment wouldn’t be worth it given my pre-med caseload and other extracurriculars. Now I question that decision.

I agree with DL, the beauty of the sport is that the Masters swimming is so popular and well-organized now that even if you don’t make it back to your college team, which I hope you do, you can always enjoy the fun and benefits of Masters swimming at any and/or all points in… Read more »

Reply to  Joey Garcia
6 years ago

Joey, check out my story below… it’s not too late! Good luck!

Joanie Benage
6 years ago

Can’t wait to see you compete at the ACC championships later this month! Go Dan! Go Eagles!

6 years ago

I swam at a division 1 school, and I was pretty far from being fast enough. I think that if you are willing to put in the work, most coaches will give you a chance. Every roster has some studs up front, some pretty good guys that fill it out, and a couple that are a little behind the rest of the team. If you have a good attitude and work hard in practice, you can still contribute to the team.

College swimmer
6 years ago

the old college coach where I’m at currently told me I wasn’t fast enough for his team…the assistant talked him into letting me walk on…. I now hold the team record in my best event

Clare MacNamara
6 years ago

Love it Dan!! Great article!

6 years ago

Here is a great resource that tells where a swimmer’s best times would rank in Divisions I, II, and III, and that info can even be further refined to specific conferences and schools.


Enter a swimmer’s name, and then click on the appropriate swimmer from the list that comes up (if it’s an unusual name, only one name might be listed; if the name is John Smith, you’ll have to select the appropriate one, listed by club affiliation). Then, select an event at the top of the page, and scroll down to the “NCAA college comparison” to see where the swimmer would approximately rank in DI, DII, or DIII. Clicking on… Read more »

Reply to  Ferb
6 years ago

thanks for the link to the swimmingrank.com website. lots of great info there. wish I had known prior to our college search!

spicy tamale
6 years ago

Big Ups. This is an inspiring story.

About Dan Kelly

Dan Kelly

Dan Kelly Dan Kelly (known simply as "DK" by his teammates), is a Senior at Boston College studying communication and marketing. As an avid swimmer since the age of four, Dan has competed in a many events but has since focused solely on sprint freestyle claiming he has "retired any race longer than …

Read More »